Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell: Making a Case for Shelving the Fallback Plan

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Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. –Paulo Coelho

This thing, this calling, chose me. That’s how it feels, anyway. I have tried other things, other somewhat more lucrative things, other somewhat less risky things, but none have really given me more stability, per se. None have been lucrative enough or stable enough (or even stimulating enough) for me to say, “Hey, it’s been so worth it to spend my entire life working on a fallback plan,” but that’s what I have done.

I went to college on a fallback plan. I went to college again on a fallback plan. I finally went to college to focus on that thing, but have used the degree more to build the fallback plan than the actual thing. I even went to college one more time, trying yet again at a fallback plan. The point is, I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find a good fallback plan. In fact, I have spent the better part of the last 26 years trying to find a fallback plan instead of giving that thing the time it deserved, the time it wanted, because in that 26 years, when fallback plan after fallback plan fell apart, that thing was always there. That thing was building and growing and building and growing, because it chose me. It nags and won’t let go, and yet I am happy that it does so. While fallback plan after fallback plan has fallen apart, I have found minutes, scraped together minutes to give to that thing because I had to, because I wanted to so much that I had to. In those scraps of minutes, seeds were planted and gardens have grown. That’s not to say there aren’t moments when no matter how much I think that thing chose me, I doubt it and feel like an imposter. Still, that thing nags at me and won’t let me go.

Sometimes, I wish when it first began to nag me that someone would have said, this may be your thing. Listen to it, but I was told it’s best to have a fallback plan. I am a mom now. My kids have their things, and their things, like my thing, are not things that people readily tell them they should bet their futures on. In fact, I remember sitting in one my daughter’s IEP meetings where her teachers and counselors encouraged her thing, but also told her she should have a fallback plan and she should spend more time thinking about that fallback plan. I get what they meant, but I still should have said no. I didn’t say no. Back then, I was in the midst of trying yet another fallback plan that I didn’t know was destined to fail. That’s not to say I don’t say no now. I know better, I guess. I hear my daughter daily through the vent, in her room playing ukulele, singing, and composing original songs. I have seen my son spend hours reading waves, getting back on his surfboard after a fall, trying again and again because it is his thing. Maybe they will find something else. Maybe the thing will be the thing in some way. I don’t know. It’s really not my business to tell them they need to do it any other way. That I do know for sure.

I recently watched Will Ferrell’s 2017 USC commencement ceremony speech. Say what you will about Will Ferrell (I personally find him funny as hell), through his humor he delivered a profound message, at least that’s the way I heard it. He spoke of darts and in the face of his risky, frightening, “I may never make it” calling he kept throwing darts at the target hoping that one or two might stick. I get that. Only, unlike Will Ferrell, I threw them secretly or stole moments to throw them and really only gave myself the chance to throw relatively few darts. Still, some have stuck, like the one I threw at Finishing Line Press in May 2016, and now I am weeks away from the publication of my first book of poems. I am not going to imagine where I would be now if I just spent the time throwing darts instead of trying and failing to find a good fallback plan. I am just going to start throwing fists full of darts now.

Ultimately, though, we spend a lot of time telling dreamers they need a fallback plan, and they need to spend more time figuring that out that plan than doing that thing. We usually give reasons like “It’s hard to make it doing that” or “Not everyone can be Will Ferrell.” Yes, it’s hard to make it doing a lot of things. I know. Yes, not everyone can be Will Ferrell, but then Will Ferrell was once just an unknown guy who kept throwing dart after dart.

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